06 January 2006

Hain paves way for transfer of policing

Belfast Telegraph

By Chris Thornton
06 January 2006

The Government is about to lay the ground work for Northern Ireland to get its own Minister for policing and justice.

Legislation giving Secretary of State Peter Hain the power to transfer responsibility for justice to Stormont will go before Parliament next month.

Mr Hain will retain those powers until Stormont can be restored, but the new law will allow him to turn them over with the stroke of a pen.

Government sources say the "enabling legislation" will be accompanied by a discussion paper about what the transfer of powers will mean, such as the possible shape of a Stormont Department of Justice.

The move is seen as a crucial building block for efforts to restore power sharing at Stormont, because Sinn Fein says it will not consider support for the PSNI until they have a hand in policing powers.

Sinn Fein says it needs to see legislation and a specific time frame for handing over policing powers before it holds a special ard fheis to consider supporting the PSNI.

The Government is hoping to begin talks in the next few months about restoring Stormont.

A central part of those talks will be the shape of a Justice Ministry - especially since the DUP and Sinn Fein are unlikely to trust each other to run the department on their own.

When the power-sharing Executive was established by the Good Friday Agreement, policing and justice powers were left out of the functions handed over to the Belfast administration.

Those powers were retained by the NIO throughout the period of devolution, which collapsed in 2002.

Unionists have generally supported the idea of transferring powers to Belfast, but are extremely wary of ending up with a Justice Minister who has a history of IRA involvement.

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